Advocacy Effective at the State Level

Barbara Sax
Published Online: Friday, August 1, 2008

Ms. Sax is a freelance writer based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.


State pharmacy associations play a big part in shaping legislation at the state level. "We are very active in state government and have a daily presence at the capital when the legislature is in session," said Nicole Schultz, director of public affairs at the Iowa Pharmacy Association. "We are the resource our state legislators rely on to educate them on pharmacy issues. Building 'friends' in the legislature is essential to protecting pharmacy issues."

Professionals at state pharmacy associations say pharmacy students often have a big role in their efforts, and that they—and the legislators they work with—value hearing students' voices on key issues. "Legislators seek your input and value the fact that you are interested in your profession enough to talk to them about issues that affect you and your community," said Schultz.

Karen Jonas, director of professional practice at the Michigan Pharmacists Association (MPA), said that student involvement is essential, because students represent the future of the profession. In addition, students and pharmacists must be patient in their advocacy pursuits, as results are not immediately recognized from their efforts. They must not give up, but should remain persistent and patient.

Young, energetic voices speaking up on issues can be a big motivator. "Pharmacy students can be a very motivational force in the advocacy of legislation that advances the practice of pharmacy or in the defeat of legislation deemed harmful to pharmacy," said Tom Engels, vice president for public affairs at the Pharmacy Society of Wisconsin (PSW).

Michigan pharmacy students and Speaker Pro Tempore Michael G. Sak

Michigan pharmacy students and
Speaker Pro Tempore Michael G. Sak

Student involvement is hardly limited to stuffing envelopes. In many cases, students are a very visible aspect of a state association's strategy. PSW, for example, encourages its members to get to know their elected officials—especially state senators and assembly representatives. Through personal contacts with pharmacists from the legislator's district, the association has been able to develop a strong grassroots advocacy program. "Students are an important part of that grassroots network," said Engels. "During Legislative Day, pharmacy students are teamed up with a pharmacist mentor that helps the student with policy issues and meetings with legislators in the State Capitol."

During the 2005-2006 legislative session, PSW, the Wisconsin Society of Pharmacy Students (WSPS), and the Wisconsin Pharmacy Examining Board jointly supported legislation to allow pharmacy students who are working under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist to be allowed to administer vaccinations and prescribe drugs. The legislation was passed and signed into law. "Pharmacy students were invited to join the governor when he signed the bill into law," said Engels.

During the most recent legislative session, a coalition consisting of PSW, WSPS, the University of Wisconsin School of Pharmacy, the Wisconsin Hospital Association, and various other health care providers teamed up to support legislation to create a pharmacy student loan forgiveness program. Although the legislation did not pass this session, a bipartisan group of legislators has indicated their support to reintroduce the legislation next session.

Student pharmacists also were instrumental in a recent MPA Legislative Day that highlighted concerns pertaining to outsourcing prescriptions for state-sponsored prescription drug programs by using mandatory mail order. "MPA also identified concerns in the state community health budget appropriations for pharmacy services in the state Medicaid program, advocated for medication therapy management programs to improve health care outcomes for patients and reduce health care dollars, addressed underfunding of the state universities' support of pharmacy programs and shortage of pharmacists, and targeted Michigan legislation impacting pharmacy to local legislators," said Jonas.

Engels said that pharmacy student advocacy in legislative issues is very important and strongly encouraged. "Pharmacy organizations across the United States are working to educate state and federal legislators on the vital role pharmacists play in the health care system," he said. Engels cited a quote from one Wisconsin legislator during the debate on the pharmacy student vaccination bill: "I regrettably would refer to pharmacists as pill counters. I now understand the valuable services pharmacists offer to their patients. Pharmacy is an evolving health care system, and pharmacy students are graduating with great expectations. We as legislators have an obligation to ensure that they are prepared to meet the demanding requirements expected of them." The public official may not ever have said that if active pharmacy students had not been present to voice their positions.

Students and pharmacists who want to find more information on their state pharmacy associations and how to become involved or become a member should begin by visiting the Web site of the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations (NASPA), www.naspa.us. Representing state pharmacy associations around the country, NASPA works to enhance their professional management and facilitates communication among its state members.



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